(Reuters) – Joe Biden branded President Donald Trump a “climate arsonist” on Monday for failing to acknowledge global warming’s role in deadly wildfires sweeping the western United States, while Trump said the crisis stemmed from lax forest management.
Dozens of conflagrations have raged with unprecedented scope across more than 4 million acres (1.6 million hectares) in Oregon, California and Washington state since August, laying waste to several small towns, destroying thousands of homes and killing at least 35 people.
The fires also have filled the region’s air with harmful levels of smoke and soot, bathing skies in eerie tones of orange and sepia while adding to a public health crisis already posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
Ten deaths have been confirmed during the past week in Oregon alone, the latest flashpoint in a larger summer outbreak of fires accompanied by catastrophic lightning storms, record-breaking heat waves and bouts of extreme winds.
Those incendiary conditions gave way over the weekend to cooler, moister weather and calmer winds, enabling weary firefighters to gain ground in efforts to outflank blazes that had burned largely unchecked last week.
Fire managers cautioned that the battle was hardly over. Thunderstorms forecast for later in the week could bring much-needed rain but also more lightning. Officials also braced for a rise in the death toll.
As disaster teams scoured the ruins of dwellings engulfed by flames amid chaotic evacuations last week, Oregon’s emergency management authorities said they had yet to account for 22 people reported missing in the fires.
At least two dozen people have perished in California wildfires since mid-August, and one fatality has been confirmed in Washington state.